Monthly Archives: May 2006

Food fights

Martin Varsavsky writes about the Google v Microsoft battle – for better food in the office:

Now here’s a paradox. In a country in which obesity is on the rise and longevity fails to climb because of the ever more common side effects of excessive weight, is it wise to win the food fight? Isn’t the ultimate employee retention policy to keep employees healthy and productive for many years? Also, if people in America are beginning to sue restaurants over their obesity, what if they start suing their employers? I guess in Europe we don´t worry about that, we just starve people, especially in Spain where you don’t get to eat until 2pm.

Embedded knowledge in the blogosphere

Josh Marshall: “One of the most neglected aspects of the blogosphere, in my opinion, is that precisely because it’s (mostly) composed of people who aren’t professional journalists, it’s composed of people who are professional doers of something else and know a great deal about what it is they ‘really’ do. Consequently, the overall network of blogs contains a great deal of embedded knowledge.”

German success shock

For those who smugly accept notions of “old Europe” the Financial Times’ analysis of Germany’s export success will probably be a shock:

In spite of Germany’s unexceptional macro­economic data, no other industrial nation has so successfully harnessed the opportunities offered by an interconnected global economy.

This mid-sized country of 80m, often painted as angst-ridden, risk-averse and allergic to change, has been the world’s largest exporter of goods every year since it overtook the US in 2003.

In 2004, the most recent year for which the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development provides comparable data, German companies exported just under $1,000bn (£530bn, €780bn) worth of products, nearly as much as the UK, France and the Netherlands combined. Its trade surplus was six times that of China.

To Germany’s cost, however, it hasn’t yet found a way to translate that success into growth and jobs domestically. Its export-oriented companies are thriving, but too many of its people are moribund.

Manufacturing in India

Peter Marsh has written a fascinating three-part series in the Financial Times on India’s response to China’s extraordinary success in manufacturing. It conveys effectively the crucial point that one of the key stories in the coming decades is the outpouring of innovation from India and China, not just their growth as low-cost manufacturing or outsourcing bases.

One caveat I have on all the China/India comparisons (and a mea culpa as well, when I look back on some of my writing). Both countries are vast, varied, continental nations. To discuss them in sweeping generalizations is to display considerable ignorance. What Marsh describes happening in Maharashtra or Karnataka is a world away from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. A recent IMF working paper discusses how some Indian states are being left behind (discussed on New Economist). The same observation could be made in China, in comparing the high-growth, relatively prosperous coastal provinces with the interior provinces.

Understanding the differences within these two countries is part of what we will need to understand our world.

Marginal Revolution's open letter

Marginal Revolution: “Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.”

Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution has launched an open letter, soliciting endorsements from social scientists. He already has support from economists on both the left and the right. A great contribution to informed debate amid the fear-mongering and distortions of the immigration debate.

Maybe the FT is finally getting the hang of this online thingy

PaidContent: “From September 1, the paper is doubling the 12-hour delay it puts on the release of stories to distributors such as LexisNexis and Factiva. That means FT stories will remain reserved to readers of the newspaper and website until midnight UK time, a full 24 hours after publication. Nigel Pocklington, the paper’s director of online publishing said that it was good for the paper to develop direct relationships with corporate customers.”

PaidContent also notes something that I’ve long argued: “But first, they have to deal with the mess of a site called It is probably the worst site (besides among the big media news sites, in terms of usability, design, information architecture etc.”

Online banking security

Although my life is firmly in the US now, I still have a couple of bank accounts in the UK. One difference between US and UK practice has struck me as curious: both my UK accounts have far, far higher security than my Wells Fargo account here.

To log into my Wells Fargo account, I need my username and a password. I tried to set up a 10-character password, but the most the system will accept is eight characters. Odd. You’d think they’d encourage tougher passwords.

My two British banks take very different tacks. NatWest requires me first to have a customer number (my birthdate plus a unique four-digit number). If I successfully navigate that, I reach a window where I must enter my four-digit PIN (but only three random digits of the four, in case someone is looking over my shoulder) and then three of the ten alphanumeric characters of my password (again randomly selected). It’s an interesting mental exercise to do this, but I like the security it suggests. If I get through that, I reach a window that reminds me when I last logged in. If something doesn’t smell right at that point, there’s a fraud department to contact.

Smile (which I would dearly love to set up a US bank because it’s so wonderful in every way) has yet another approach. To log in, I need my bank sort code, my bank account number and my four-digit PIN. That takes me to a window where I am asked either for a significant date, significant name, first school attended or last school attended. Which choice you have is random. So someone would have to be a wonderful mind-reader as well as a good thief of data to get through to my Smile account. (Smile, not incidentally, is owned by The Cooperative Bank, not a corporation, and operates on pretty stringent ethical principles. I think there’d be a significant market in the US for banking along these lines.)

What’s curious about all this is that the US is so much more security conscious in so many ways than Britain. I get junk mail on a weekly basis from banks and credit card companies about the danger of identity theft. But they do a poor job of guarding my security online.